The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2005


The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2005

The world will remember 2005 for its natural disasters, the passing of a pope, and the ongoing insurgency in Iraq. But, all the while, FP’s editors have been keeping an eye out for those stories that fell through the cracks but will have a lasting impact for years to come. In a year-end FP exclusive, here are 10 stories you might have missed.

The Navy Does Missile Defense Better
Good news has been hard to come by for the U.S. National Missile Defense system. Although it was sold to the American people as an eventual shield against incoming missiles, it has repeatedly failed to hit its targets under the most favorable conditions. And, at a cost of more than $92 billion, even its backers in the Bush administration seemed to be distancing themselves from the project. But make way for the U.S. Navy. On November 17, an interceptor missile from the USS Lake Erie knocked out a test missile 100 miles over the Pacific Ocean. It was the first time a sea-based interceptor took out a warhead separated from its booster rocket. The Navy has done a much better job than the [ground-focused] Missile Defense Agency, says former Pentagon official Philip Coyle, who attributes the Navy’s success to its careful oversight of contractors’ work, a tradition of realistic tests and goals, and the fact that its task is slightly easier. Sea-based missile defense has its limitations, to be sure. It won’t work when missiles are launched far inland, and it can only intercept missiles at the early stages of flight. But it could work near, say, North Korea. And that just might be enough…


Still, a Wounded Military
In last year’s list, we pointed out that the health of the U.S. military was in serious decline. At 7 to 1, the ratio of wounded to dead in Iraq was the highest of any conflict in recent memory, including Vietnam, where the ratio was 3 to 1. A year later, the story is worseand still largely ignored. In 2005, the most common number cited regarding the war in Iraq was the more than 2,100 U.S. soldiers that have died. When the number of wounded was mentioned, the Pentagon figure of more than 15,500 U.S. troops, or the Army Medical Department’s total of 20,748 medical evacuations, was usually rolled out. Today, the wounded-to-dead ratio remains near 7 to 1 by this official count. But a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) report released in October tells a bigger story. Its data shows that 119,247 veterans of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have sought VA healthcare. Of those, 46,450 were diagnosed primarily with musculoskeletal problems, such as joint ailments and back disorders. More than 36,800 veterans, or 31 percent of those the VA cared for, were treated primarily for mental disorders. Not even the VA had anticipated the number of soldiers they would be asked to help. In June, the agency told lawmakers that it had underestimated the the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and required $1 billion in emergency funding.

The New Coalition of the Willing
Private security firms in Iraq are hiring an increasing number of ex-guerrillas and soldiers from Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Chile. A recent ad on, for example, offered the services of a thousand Colombian combat-trained ex-soldiers and policemen for security work in Iraq. This year, U.S. security firm Halliburton employed Colombians to protect oil installations in several Iraqi cities. Blackwater, another private security firm, has had a group of soldiers who once served for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on the payroll. Recruits often come from militaries known for human rights abuses or paramilitaries with ties to narcotrafficking. So why are U.S. contractors hiring Latin American mercenaries? If a contractor is killed, says Peter Singer, an expert on private military firms at the Brookings Institution, it is less likely to make the news [than if it’s a U.S. soldier]. If it’s a contractor from another country, it is even less likely.

Recipe for Successor
Ever since Kim Jong Il replaced his father as North Korea’s leader in 1994, Korea watchers have speculated over who would succeed him. The subject is such a hot topic that Kim has banned all discussion of succession in North Korea. But this year offered the biggest clue to date. On October 28, Chinese President Hu Jintao dined with Kim and the dictator’s second son, Kim Jong Chol. Because China is the Hermit Kingdom’s chief patron, the decision to seat Kim Jong Chol at the table would not have been taken lightly by Pyongyang. The 64-year-old Kim has said he would like one of his three sons to be his heir, but thus far it’s been unclear which one. Little is known about the 24-year-old Jong Chol, except that he studied in Switzerland and is a big fan of NBA basketball. But experts say that until the super-secretive Kim officially announces his choice, no candidate will be a slam dunk.

Hot Air’s Shifting Winds
When it comes to emitting greenhouse gases, the United States is usually seen as the bad guy, content to belch out fumes at its pleasure. But reports released in late November show that U.S. emissions have fallen for the first time in more than a decade. Between 2000 and 2003, U.S. emissions fell by 0.8 percent. By contrast, global goody-two-shoes Canada saw a 24.2 percent increase in 2003 from its 1990 levels. Even the sanctimonious Europeans are set to miss their Kyoto targets by 6.4 percent. Uncle Sam’s emissions dropped partly because U.S. firms introduced clean coal technologies and reduced their methane emissions. So, is the United States turning into the Green Giant? Hardly. The most important reason for its drop in emissions was the migration of heavy manufacturing to industrializing countries such as China, the world’s second-biggest emitter.

Rumsfeld’s Slip of the Tongue
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld seemingly revised America’s One China policy with one word. At an August press conference, when asked how important it was for Taipei to conclude an arms purchase from the United States, Rumsfeld referred to Taiwan as a sovereign country. The secretary replied, You know, I’ve always believed that countriessovereign nationshave to do what they decide to do. It’s up to them to do it. Considering Beijing’s sensitivity to any statements about the independence of Taiwanwhich it considers a renegade provinceit’s surprising that Rumsfeld would be so semantically careless. The Taiwan Strait issue is very theological. It has its sacred texts. Officials who speak publicly without the necessary training often rue the day they did not learn the proper nuance and subtlety, says Richard Bush, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the former head of the de facto U.S. embassy in Taiwan. [Rumsfeld’s] use of the word sovereign’ was probably a bit radioactive because it does mean different things to different people. Was it on purpose? Kenneth Lieberthal, a political scientist and former China adviser on the National Security Council, doesn’t believe so. I think it was a slip of the tongue. Fortunately, neither the Chinese nor Taiwanese governments made political hay out of Rumsfeld’s lapse in jargon. They know the script so well, they can probably spot an honest mistake when they see one.

Back to (Terrorist) Camp
Pakistan’s President Gen. Pervez Musharraf cracked down on terrorist groups operating on Pakistani soil in the wake of the September 11 attacks. This year, Washington was so pleased with Musharraf’s support in the war on terrorism, it approved the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Islamabad. But reports that terrorist camps are reopening in Pakistan received only scant attention in 2005. In July, the Herald, a Pakistani magazine, reported that previously abandoned terrorist training camps were open for business in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. Islamabad denied that the camp in question existed, though the Herald’s reporter received a guided tour of a fully rehabilitated camp in Mansehra that was complete with office space, four residential halls, a volleyball court, and, of course, young men carrying AK-47s. Although there’s no sign that the camps have Islamabad’s backing, one militant told the Herald that they operated in a regime of controlled freedom. Intelligence sources also told the New York Times in August that three Pakistanis jailed last summer for attempting to assassinate the U.S. ambassador in Kabul said they were trained in Mansehra. Exasperated Afghan military officials say Pakistan continues to back the Taliban, which it hopes to use once U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan. Of course, Musharraf may never be able to monitor every inch of his country’s difficult terrain. But camps that journalists can find are camps that Pakistani soldiers can find too…if they were looking.

India Struggles with Maoists
In Nepal, the Maoist insurgency that has continued for 10 years and claimed the lives of more than 12,000 people drew a growing number of headlines in 2005. But what about the nearby rebels they have inspired? Consistently outwitting and overwhelming Indian police forces, Indian Maoists, also known as Naxalites, have taken control of large chunks of territory in several eastern and southern Indian states, such as Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. And they’ve even made inroads into towns near the tech center of Bangalore. In November, around 700 heavily armed Naxalites stormed Jehanabad, a town of 80,000 people in the eastern state of Bihar and freed 350 prisoners from the local jail, including fellow rebels. And, though these Indian Maoists fight in the name of the poor and landless, they are demonstrating a newfound sophistication for pulling off well-coordinated attacks. They recently launched an assault on a police training center in the state of Jharkhandcomplete with wireless communication, precise roadblocks, and severed phone lines. The tech boom is no longer the only boom you may hear coming out of India.

Oil’s Opaque Outlook
With oil prices soaring this year, the debate over the future of this precious commodity heated up. But lost in the mix was ExxonMobil’s report The Outlook for Energy: A 2030 View. The total oil output of non-OPEC producers, according to ExxonMobil’s projection, will peak around 2010, after which OPEC will have to add more than 1 million barrels per day, every year, to keep up with world demand by 2030. In 2003, Algeria produced 1.1 million barrels per day, wrote energy analyst Alfred J. Cavallo in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. A new Algeria would need to be brought on line in the Persian Gulf each and every year beyond 2010 just to keep up with the projected increase in demand. That’s no easy prospect. To make matters worse, most OPEC countries, including vital swing producer Saudi Arabia, do not allow independent audits of their oil reserves, so we may have even less warning of any future shortfalls. Under OPEC’s quota system, members have every incentive to inflate their reserve figures: The more they claim to have, the more they can sell. The price of a barrel of black gold just went upagain.

Europe’s Zombie Constitution
The French and the Dutch both rejected the European Union (EU) constitution this year. Back to the drawing board for Europe, right? Wrong. Brussels isn’t letting pesky voters get in the way of European integration. Daniel Hannan, a member of the European Parliament who is skeptical of the promises of integration, has identified 12 significant parts of the constitution that are being implemented despite the French and Dutch resultsincluding the establishment of the European Defense Agency, a European Space Programme, and an EU diplomatic corps. European Commission spokesman Mikolaj Dowgielewicz says charging ahead isn’t a problem because these are not the things why people voted againstor in favorof the constitution. People did not vote against the constitution in France and the Netherlands, or in favor in Spain, because of the Space Agency. Europeans should have seen this coming when, in Juneafter the votes were countedEU President Jean-Claude Juncker said, I really believe neither the French nor the Dutch rejected the constitutional treaty. Maybe he missed the stories about the no votes, too?

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